Frack The Planet

Now this is interesting:

A new report discussed in the FT claims that American shale gas production has actually reduced carbon emissions by 450 million tons over the past five years, during which fracking came into widespread use. As the report mentions, gas—mostly obtained via fracking—has grown in usage by 38 percent over the past year alone, while much dirtier coal has fallen by nearly 20 percent over the same time period. The correlation between the rise of fracking and a fall in carbon output is not a coincidence. While greens have spent years chasing a global green unicorn, America has been moving towards reducing its carbon footprint on its own, and fracking has been the centerpiece of this change.

In fact, America’s drop in carbon emissions is greater than that of any other country in the survey. Greens have often praised Europe and Australia for their foresight in adopting forward-thinking carbon-trading schemes, while chastising America for its reluctance to do the same. Yet the numbers are out, and America has actually performed better than its carbon-trading peers. From an empirical standpoint, fracking has a much better track record at reducing emissions than the current green dream.

Cutting CO2 emissions was not the intent of fracking and shale gas, but that has been a pleasant side effect. It is a simple fact that natural gas gets you much more energy bang for the CO2 buck than coal. In fact, I would not be surprised if it does better than many of the “green” fuels we are being force-fed. Moving to natural gas isn’t a permanent solution. But 450 million tons is a massive reduction: more than the reductions produced by food miles and cap and trade combined. That’s progress — the sort of progress that can buy time while more long-term solutions like fusion are worked out.

I’m not going to pretend that fracking does not come with its own basket of environmental concerns. I live in central Pennsylvania, where a lot of fracking is going on (uh, that wasn’t supposed to sound that dirty). While the concerns are a bit overblown, they are not zero. But even then, fracking may still be better than coal, which can involve such things as mountaintop removal. Moving to natural gas is a positive in almost every way.

The Green’s reluctance to acknowledge this does, I think, undercut their claims to be pure-hearted environmentalists. Anyone who really cares about global warming would say that, while switching to gas isn’t a perfect solution, it’s a massive improvement. But the environmentalists have set a currently impossible goal of no CO2 emissions (the politicians, by contrast, have set goals of reducing CO2 emissions fifty years from now when they will all be dead).

What’s astonishing is that the Americas are rapidly becoming the world’s energy epicenter. Fracking, shale and deep water are quickly sidelining the Middle East as an increasingly minor player in the global energy market. I predicted this … Lee predicted this … years ago when oil prices first began to spike. That was a signal that we needed more energy and industry has responded. If we had imposed price controls like many Democrats wanted to, we’d not only be out of oil, but not exploiting these newer greener energy sources.

Here’s a quote from Lee. Expand it to fossil fuels in general and you’ll see, as in all things, that he was a fucking prophet:

The difficult argument is to explain to people, calmly and rationally, the situation with oil. The easy thing to do is terrify people into thinking that, just like sucking on a milkshake, one day we’re just going to run out. As I’ve said before, technological advances will make oil obsolete long before we ever actually run out of it. If oil were actually in any danger of running out any time soon it would be $500,000 a barrel instead of $100. (That’s freshman economics, folks. Everyone should understand that.)

Oil will never run out. Ever. There is too much money to be made in the technology industry for the world to keep relying solely on oil. We don’t need nightmares, we don’t need screaming histrionics, we don’t need end of the world scenarios. What we need are smart people taking the problem seriously, and finding workable, reasonable solutions to transition the world from a petroleum economy into the next generation.

Fracking and shale are the technology that is bridging us to the future. They are what will keep our economy going while we develop ever more efficient and less fossil-dependent energy sources. And by exploiting them, we are reducing our carbon footprint, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing our environmental impact. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine — not by a long shot — but it’s certainly a lot more rainbowy than the alternative.

So the question to fracking opponents becomes this: why do you guys not care about the environment?

(PS – In finding that Lee quote, I dug up a lot of old posts. Here is another good one. I miss that guy.)

Update: Spain’s heralded green energy industry is collapsing without massive subsidies. I don’t want to play this up too much since the fossil fuel industry gets subsidies too — although at a far lower rate per Gigawatt of energy produced. But no one doubts the fossil fuel industry could survive without subsidies.

Comments are closed.

  1. sahrab

    I’m not going to pretend that fracking does not come with its own basket of environmental concerns. I live in central Pennsylvania, where a lot of fracking is going on (uh, that wasn’t supposed to sound that dirty). While the concerns are a bit overblown, they are not zero.

    Such as?

    And please dont use “Gasland” as proof, the histrionics in it are worthy of a Michael Moore “documentary” (which is interestingly enough how i came to find about Right-Thinking originally)

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  2. Hal_10000 *

    Trust me, I live in central PA. I know Gasland is a bunch of crap. But people get nervous about what’s being done under their feet since Centralia became a ghost town.

    The concerns are (1) the 1% of the fracking solution that is not sand and water is kept a trade secret by the fracking companies. No one is sure what is in them and there is concern about it leaking into water reservoirs. The danger appears to be low, but there is still a great deal of worry. (2) fracking is producing notable increases in low-level seismic activity. Again, the danger appears to be low. But we’re in uncharted territory here as we don’t have alot of experience in breaking up deep formations in the earth.

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  3. Seattle Outcast

    Anybody else ever watch “Connections” some 30 years ago on Nova? The one thing it did better than anything else was show that you can’t predict what will come out of a new discovery – attempting to “guide” progress is not only a waste of time, but will also prevent a great number of advancements that will come about via accidental discoveries.

    Governments don’t believe this – they think that a group of officials and other incompetent dweebs can predict and create the future (the one that they want). All government are generally bad, but the least bad do their best to stay out of the way. The worst ones want to regulate the holy hell out of everything in the misguided effort to direct specific outcomes based on political agendas.

    Technology in general tends to affect things in ways not imagined when it is first unveiled. Even sci-fi authors that dream of this sort of stuff frequently come up short when their grand ideas of the future start to become reality.

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  4. InsipiD

    Trust me, I live in central PA. I know Gasland is a bunch of crap. But people get nervous about what’s being done under their feet since Centralia became a ghost town.

    An accident that was badly handled 50 years ago in a coal mine is going to color your decisions about gas today?

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  5. Dave D

    About the “methane is superior to coal” argument in terms of CO2 production:

    You burn 12 pounds (a “pound mole”, loosely) of coal, you get 44 pounds of CO2. The energy density of coal is about 24 megajoules per kg.

    You burn the same 12 pounds of methane (0.75 pound moles), you generate 33 pounds of CO2 PLUS 36 pounds of steam. The energy density of methane is 55 megajoules per kg.

    Sure the natural gas is better, but that is ignoring the global warming effects of steam (which is always ignored) and also the ease of access, which coal wins out on if fracking is as difficult and damaging as I think it is.

    Just some facts to discuss………

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  6. sahrab

    The concerns are (1) the 1% of the fracking solution that is not sand and water is kept a trade secret by the fracking companies. No one is sure what is in them and there is concern about it leaking into water reservoirs. The danger appears to be low, but there is still a great deal of worry.

    And misinformation like you posted does nothing for your argument, and lumps you in with the Luddites.

    1% trade secret – bullshit. The entire list of chemicals/addititives/oogy boogy are listed and known by every state agency that oversees and regulates the industry, and are available to the public as well. For PA you’d only have to go here and search for Summary of Hydraulic Fracture Solutions if you really wanted to find out (should probably search for yourself before believing the hyperbole eh?)

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  7. Xetrov

    How the HELL does someone downvote the FACTS that I posted above?

    Just a guess, but it would be the OPINIONS expressed, not the actual FACTS.

    but that is ignoring the global warming effects of steam (which is always ignored)

    Nevermind the FACT that

    Most electricity today is generated by burning fossil fuels and producing steam which is then used to drive a steam turbine that, in turn, drives an electrical generator.

    I guess steam created by burning Natural Gas is not as bad as steam created by burning coal (which is always ignored).

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  8. bgeek

    Sure the natural gas is better, but that is ignoring the global warming effects of steam (which is always ignored) and also the ease of access

    You’re correct except that the steam eventually condenses and falls to the ground upon increasing concentration. Before CO2 was the big, bad, boogeyman, it was NxOy and SOz (where x,y,z are integers) that were the big issues and are typically ignored now. Before that, ozone issues were all the rage (my grad school adviser’s specialty). Pretty soon, something else will arise before the day is out. CO2 has just been so convenient because amounts released from combustion are easily measured/calculated.

    edit: No global warming talk here, just discussion of fossil fuel combustion.

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  9. CM

    Here is the “new report discussed in the FT ” for those interested.

    http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/media/weowebsite/2012/goldenrules/WEO2012_GoldenRulesReport.pdf

    Pg 91:

    Energy-related CO2 emissions in the Golden Rules Case reach 36.8 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2035, an increase of over 20% compared with 2010 (Table 2.7) but lower than the 2035 baseline
    projection by 0.5%. At the global level, there are two major effects of the Golden Rules Case on CO2 emissions, which counteract one another. Lower natural gas prices mean that, in some instances, gas displaces the use of more carbon-intensive fuels, oil and coal, pushing down emissions. At the same time, lower natural gas prices lead to slightly higher overall consumption of energy and, in some instances, to displacement of lower-carbon fuels, such as renewable energy sources and nuclear power. Overall, the projections in the Golden Rules Case involve only a small net shift in anticipated levels of greenhouse-gas emissions.

    The Golden Rules Case puts CO2 emissions on a long-term trajectory consistent with stabilising the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse-gas emissions at around 650 parts per million, a trajectory consistent with a probable temperature rise of more than 3.5 degrees Celsius (°C) in the long term, well above the widely accepted 2°C target. This finding reinforces a central conclusion from the WEO special report on a Golden Age of Gas (IEA, 2011b), that, while a greater role for natural gas in the global energy mix does bring environmental benefits where it substitutes for other fossil fuels, natural gas cannot on its own provide the answer to the challenge of climate change. This conclusion could be changed by widespread application of technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which could reduce considerably the emissions from the consumption of gas (and other fossil fuels); but this is not assumed in the period to 2035.15

    So, as you say Hal, this isn’t a solution. It potentially buys a frac(k)tion more time.

    Their previous report makes it clear that natural gas by itself does nothing to avert catastrophic climate change.

    Natural gas is not the “panacea” to solve climate change that fossil fuel industry lobbyists have been claiming, according to new research from the International Energy Agency.

    Reliance on gas would lead the world to a 3.5C temperature rise, according to the IEA. At such a level, global warming could run out of control, deserts would take over in southern Africa, Australia and the western US, and sea level rises could engulf small island states.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/06/natural-gas-climate-change-no-panacea

    The IEA scenario assumes coal use is basically flat from from 2020 to 2035, which the report makes pretty clear would require a price on carbon. Without a carbon price, natural gas is a bridge to nowhere and can actually crowd out carbon-free sources of power.

    Also, as the IEA states in footnote 15:

    There is the possibility that the capacities for CO2 storage might be affected by hydraulic fracturing. A recent study (Elliot and Celia, 2012) estimated that 80% of the potential area to store CO2 underground in the United States could be prejudiced by shale and tight gas development, although others have argued that, even if the rock seal in one place were to be broken by hydraulic fracturing, other layers of impermeable rock underneath the fractured area would block migration of the CO2.

    As you say Hal, it’s uncharted territory.

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  10. CM

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  11. CM

    I don’t see why we don’t hook up criminals and use them as human batteries. If Matrix science is correct, that is.

    Similar problem – too much methane.

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  12. Mississippi Yankee

    How the HELL does someone downvote the FACTS that I posted above?

    Dave D
    Bringing facts to a AGW discussion, even a left-handed one such as this, will never garner you accolades ’round these parts. BTW I upvoted ya.

    And something I just learned this week, all of those plastic grocery bags we all get at the market/store… they’re not a petroleum by-product. They are made from what you see when natural gas is being ‘burnt-off’. Someone figured out how to take that gas and make a useful product. (flame away bitches :).

    Of course now that Los Angles and other pinnacles of stupidity have banned them I suppose it’s back to just heating up the atmosphere again.

    And for the record, LP gas absolutely sucks as a motor vehicle fuel. Under powered, ridiculous storage and it will cut your engines life in half. It wasn’t ready for prime-time in the late 70’s and it’s not ready now either.

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  13. CM

    stick tubes in their asses and bottle it.

    That might also solve the ‘soap-drop’ issues that criminals often complain about (I’ve always wondered why they don’t just use flowing soap?).

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  14. Seattle Outcast

    How the HELL does someone downvote the FACTS that I posted above?

    Envirotards don’t want data, they want their agendas rammed through and supported.

    Another issue with coal that isn’t burned properly is aerosol particulates, which are a big issue on their own. There are ways to make coal a very clean energy source, but the number of those facilities is quite limited at this time. Of course, the idiot left envirotard movement has decided that “clean coal doesn’t exist” and attempt to block it entirely.

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  15. Mississippi Yankee

    Of course, the idiot left envirotard movement has decided that “clean coal doesn’t exist” and attempt to block it entirely.

    It probably hasn’t help that pResident Choom vowed to kill the coal industry.

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  16. Hal_10000 *

    Sure the natural gas is better, but that is ignoring the global warming effects of steam (which is always ignored) and also the ease of access, which coal wins out on if fracking is as difficult and damaging as I think it is.

    I agree that the case is not ironclad. However, I would submit that the proof is in the pudding: CO2 emissions have fallen while energy production and use has gone up.

    You know, I’m starting to believe that CM’s posts just get voted down as a matter of course.

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  17. CM

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  18. Dave D

    You burn 12 pounds (a “pound mole”, loosely) of coal, you get 44 pounds of CO2. The energy density of coal is about 24 megajoules per kg.

    FACT Calculated from the MW of carbon and the reaction with oxygen. Generates ZERO water, btw.

    You burn the same 12 pounds of methane (0.75 pound moles), you generate 33 pounds of CO2 PLUS 36 pounds of steam. The energy density of methane is 55 megajoules per kg.

    FACT. Caluclated from the MW of methand and the reaction with oxygen.

    Sure the natural gas is better,

    FACT, in terms of efficiency of burning PER GRAM, determined by comparing 44 vs 33 pounds of CO2 generated and also 24 MJ vs 55 MJ of energy. There is no opinion here.

    but that is ignoring the global warming effects of steam (which is always ignored) and also the ease of access, which coal wins out on if fracking is as difficult and damaging as I think it is.

    FACT. GW calcs NEVER include the effects of water vapor. Coal burning generates almost ZERO water. That also is a FACT.

    FACT that coal is easier to mine than fracking.

    Yet I get downvoted for stating opinions. At least I did the work and didn’t linkbomb you like others here……

    Also, not tryinig to denigrate fracking. Just tryinig to show how coal compares in terms of the numbers.

    You guys are awfully twitchy today!

    Hot! Thumb up 4

  19. Retluocc1

    Anybody else ever watch “Connections” some 30 years ago

    Loved it!

    James Burke also did a “Connections 2″ and “Connections 3″ series, but far and away my favorite of his was “The Day the Universe Changed”. All of his stuff is up on a YouTube channel somewhere. I highly recommend it.

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